In April 2021, we updated the offer in our jobcentres, boosting our network of armed forces champions to 50, supported by 11 area leads. They are focused on providing key support to our veterans and other members of the armed forces community to ensure that their talents and abilities are recognised and that they can move quickly on to their next step. I saw that in action on Thursday at the military careers fair in Aldershot with the Veterans Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty).
As the Minister will know, our veterans have particular skills and needs. Can she confirm that veterans in my constituency in the Scottish Borders, whether they attend a jobcentre in Hawick, Galashiels or Eyemouth, will be able to access the support offered by their district armed forces champion?
Yes, I can confirm that they will. The great work that is being done by our DWP armed forces champions in my hon. Friend’s constituency is playing out, for example, in how the local champion from High Riggs jobcentre has already been working with the local council to secure bus passes for veterans, alongside providing veterans with direct employment support.
With Lincoln and Lincolnshire continuing to have a growing armed forces community—with RAF Waddington playing a national role and the Royal Anglian Regiment 2nd Battalion celebrating its freedom of the city last Friday—delivering the champions scheme along with other important parts of the armed forces covenant is important to my constituents, not least Councillor Bill Mara in Witham ward. What more can be done in respect of the scheme to signpost veterans to these services?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In Lincoln, the armed forces champion is already receiving good feedback in their role. They work with several councils and local homeless veterans to make sure that those veterans get suitable housing. In fact, in the case of West Lindsey council, they worked with adult social care to get permanent housing for a claimant with a history of alcohol addiction. They are also helping claimants who are veterans back into work, using the flexible support fund and working with local employers and employment agencies.
In theory this should be an excellent initiative, but the Minister will know that the previous veterans action plan, for 2019 to 2021, promised to
“increase the number of Jobcentre Plus Armed Forces Champions and District Leads from the current position of around 45 unfunded, part-time posts to funding an Armed Forces lead in each Jobcentre Plus District and 100 support posts.”
That is not happening, so how can the Minister claim to be supporting the work of armed forces champions, while cutting the number of paid posts?
We have a new model of 11 armed forces champion leads across the DWP districts. We are working with armed forces champions and the covenant locally. We have 50 armed forces champions across the jobcentre network. With covid, of course, some of this upskilling and these add-ons were paused, but we are absolutely committed to making sure that our veterans get the best service at DWP.
I thank the Minister for her response. In Northern Ireland, the role of the armed forces champions in jobcentres and in district councils presents difficulties with the security of some ex-soldiers. What discussions have taken place with the Minister or with jobcentres in Northern Ireland to ensure that veterans in Northern Ireland can access these services?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. Universal credit now has an identifier to help us enhance support for all our claimants who may have a veteran background. Many people do not declare that background and can be working with us for a long time before they recognise that it needs to be understood. Some 83% of veterans are employed within six months, but we need to do better and make sure that all are supported.